Financial Services

The County Manager and Clerk’s Office advises the County Commission on all fiscal and budgetary matters. It is responsible for accounting for all financial transactions, disbursement of funds, preparation of payroll, facilitating budget development and implementation, monitoring of all revenues and expenditures, periodic and annual reporting, projections for county finances, control of county assets, monitoring the County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST), and any/all Grant programs, and purchasing of goods and services for county departments.

The department also serves as a resource for all other County departments, providing accurate, timely and transparent financial information and data in order to ensure the highest level of service is provided to all Marion County citizens.  It is the duty of the County Manager and Clerk’s Office to provide responsible stewardship in their daily operations as a way of guaranteeing County assets are utilized in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

Understanding Property Taxes

 

Property tax is an ad valorem tax, which means according to value. Ad valorem tax, the tax collected by the tax commissioner, is based on the value of the taxable property in the county.

All real estate, personal property, mobile homes, and motor vehicles are taxable unless law has exempted the property. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-3) Real property is land and generally anything that is erected, growing or affixed to the land; personal property is everything that can be owned that is not real estate. Personal property typically consists of inventory and fixtures used in conducting business, boats, aircraft, and farm machinery. Personal household property is not normally taxable.

 

Tax Assessor’s Role

The Board of Assessors and their staff have the sole responsibility and authority of determining the value of property in Marion County. Each year between January 1 and April 1, every property owner has the ability to declare a proposed value for their property. (O.C.G.A. 48-5-9) These values are declared in the manner of ‘filing a return.’ Returns for real estate and personal property are filed in the Tax Assessors’ Office. The Board of Assessors will review your proposed value, and if they disagree, an assessment notice with the Boards’ value will be mailed to you.

If the taxpayer is dissatisfied with the value placed on the property, the taxpayer has the right to appeal this value within 45 days of the date of the notice. The appeal may be based on taxability, value, uniformity, and/or the denial of an exemption. The written appeal must initially be filed with the Board of Tax Assessors and must state their chosen method of appeal. For more information regarding appeals, please call the Tax Assessors’ Office.

The Fair Market Value is the 100% value as determined by the Board of Assessors. The Assessed value is defined as being 40% of the Fair Market Value. Property is taxed on the 40% Assessed Value less any exemptions.

 

The Millage Rate

The tax rate, or millage rate, is set annually. A tax rate of one mill represents a tax liability of one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value.

Millage rates are set by the Board of Education, the Board of Commissioners, City Councils (for city property tax), and the State of Georgia.

The amount for tax is calculated using a combination of the property value and the millage rate.

Once the property owner and the Board of Assessors have come to terms with an appropriate value, this value is provided to the Tax Commissioner for tax calculation. To calculate a tax statement, first deduct any exemptions that may apply from the assessed value which generates a net assessed (taxable) value. Then, multiply the net assessed value by the millage rate.

The current Marion County Millage Rate is: 7.086

 

Property Tax Use

Property taxes are the main source of revenue for local school systems and county governments. Without property taxes, these entities simply could not function and serve their communities. Most of your property tax supports the school system. If you live in the unincorporated area of the county, then 70.23% of your property taxes go to the school system, while the other 29.77% goes to the County to provide the following services:

  • Support administration of county government
  • Build and maintain public buildings; bridges and county roads
  • Pay expenses of courts; county jail and law enforcement
  • Pay expenses of coroner and coroner services
  • Pay expenses for local, state, and federal elections
  • Provide fire protection
  • Provide for public health and sanitation
  • Provide recreation and park services
  • Provide emergency management services
  • Provide building inspections, code enforcement, and zoning services
  • Support local transit such as the local airport
  • Support local libraries, senior centers, health centers, etc.

If you live in the Buena Vista city limits, then 42.28% of your property taxes go to the City of Buena Vista, 40.54% goes to the school system, and 17.18% goes to the County.

Resources

Understanding LOST, SPLOST, T-SPLOST and E-SPLOST

 

Local option sales taxes are taxes that are levied on the sale of goods and services within the jurisdiction that approves such tax. There are currently four (4) types of local option sales taxes and each one is different in how it is approved and what it can be used for. The ultimate goal in a sales tax is to relieve some of the burden on property taxpayers by virtue of it being a consumption tax that everyone contributes to, regardless of whether they are a local citizen or not. The Marion County government has a significant history in the use of three of these taxes; the fourth is set aside strictly for the local Board of Education and is used for purposes defined by that elected body. To better understand what these taxes are used for, the following overview of each one is provided with some history of its use.

Local Option Sales Tax (LOST)

A major source of revenue for many counties, including Marion County, is the joint county and municipal local option sales tax. Subject to voter approval, a sales and use tax of 1% may be imposed on the purchase, sale, rental, storage, use or consumption of tangible personal property and related services. Proceeds from this tax are collected on behalf of the county and its qualified municipalities by the Georgia Department of Revenue and disbursed by them based on the percentages negotiated by the county government and the cities within each county. One percent of the amount collected is paid into the general fund of the State Treasury to defray the costs of administering this program and a percentage is paid to the entity that collects and reports the tax. The remainder is used as revenue for the general fund and reduces the amount of property tax revenue required to fund the annual budget. It requires that the tax bill of each property taxpayer must show the reduced county and city millage rate resulting from the receipt of sales tax revenue from the previous year as well as the reduced dollar amount. All counties and municipalities that impose a joint sales and use tax are required to renegotiate the distribution certificate for the proceeds following each decennial census. The criteria to be used in the distribution of such proceeds and for the resolution of conflicts between the county and its municipalities are set by state law and if the county and cities fail to renegotiate such certificates as required by this law, the tax then terminates. To summarize:

  • The implementation of LOST is approved initially by the voters, after which is continues annually, subject to certain provisions.
  • A LOST is a joint tax between the county government and its municipalities, i.e. Marion County and Buena Vista are partners in LOST.
  • The law requires that the county governing officials enter into negotiations with the governing officials of the municipalities upon implementation of a LOST and must renegotiate the percentages each will receive every ten years following a new census. This year, local governments all over Georgia will be engaged in renegotiating the portion each will receive from LOST proceeds and these percentages and the formulas for arriving at them will vary by each jurisdiction. Factors such as population and services provided by each jurisdiction are some of what comes into play during LOST negotiations.
  • If a consensus is not reached by all parties in accordance with Georgia Law, then the tax terminates.
  • LOST funds distributed go into the general funds of the county and the three municipalities and reduce the amount of property tax needed to fund the budgets of these governments.
  • Tax bills disbursed annually must show the effect LOST has on the millage rate and the estimated dollar amount that the property taxpayer saved because of LOST.
  • LOST continues so long as all conditions above are met.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST)

A SPLOST is similar to a LOST in that it imposes a 1% sales tax on the purchase, sale, rental, storage, use or consumption of tangible personal property and related services; beyond that it is very different. The revenues from this tax must be used for capital outlays and the tax is subject to voter approval each time one is levied. This tax is collected by the Department of Revenue and disbursed to the county government and it is distinguished by virtue of being a county tax rather than a joint county-city tax-however, it may be used to fund city projects and often is used for this in counties around Georgia. As a condition of levying a SPLOST, the county must have a meeting and confer with the city officials at least 30 days before the call for the referendum in order to consider any capital projects for which the cities may seek SPLOST funds. If the county agrees to include a city project(s) in the call for referendum, the county and city must enter into an agreement before the call. SPLOST cannot typically be levied for more than five years per SPLOST; however, under certain conditions, it can be levied for six years. Prior to a SPLOST referendum, local government officials will identify specific purposes that a SPLOST will be used for. Citizen input is critical to this process and is provided by means of a SPLOST committee made up of local citizens and community leaders not affiliated with the local governments, government-appointed boards or entities that would receive direct benefit from the SPLOST. The SPLOST committee identifies projects needed by the jurisdiction and promotes, educates and informs the community about SPLOST and its potential benefits towards reducing property taxes and maintaining or increasing the quality of government services. As its name implies, Special Purpose means that a SPLOST can only be used for capital outlay projects specifically identified and named in the referendum and on the ballot when it comes up for citizen approval. These projects by law must fall into the following criteria:

  1. Roads, streets, and bridges, which may include sidewalks and bicycle paths;
  2. A capital outlay project in the special district consisting of a courthouse or
    administrative buildings; a civic center; a local or regional jail, correctional
    institution, or other detention facility; a library; a coliseum; local or regional solid
    waste handling facilities; local or regional recovered materials processing
    facilities; or any combination of such projects;
  3. A capital outlay project to be operated by a joint authority or authorities of the
    county and one or more qualified municipalities within the special district;
  4. A capital outlay project to be owned or operated or both by the county, one or
    more qualified municipalities in the special district, one or more local authorities
    in the special district, or any combination thereof;
  5. A capital outlay project consisting of a cultural, recreational, or historic facility or
    a facility for some combination of these purposes;
  6. A water or sewer capital outlay project, or combination thereof, to be owned or
    operated by a county water and sewer district and one or more qualified
    municipalities in the special district;
  7. The retirement of existing general obligation debt of the county, one or more
    qualified municipalities, or any combination thereof;
  8. A capital outlay project within the special district consisting of public safety or
    airport facilities, or both, or related capital equipment used to operate such
    facilities, or any combination of such purposes;
  9. A capital outlay project within the special district consisting of capital equipment
    for use in voting in official elections or referenda;
  10. A capital outlay project within the special district consisting of any transportation
    facility designed for the transportation of people or goods, including but not
    limited to railroads, port and harbor facilities, mass transportation facilities, or any
    combination thereof;
  11. A capital outlay project within the special district consisting of a hospital or
    hospital facility owned by the county, a qualified municipality or a hospital
    authority and operated by such county, municipality, or hospital authority, or by a
    nonprofit, tax-exempt organization through a lease or contract with the county,
    municipality or hospital authority; or
  12. Any combination of two or more of the above projects.

To summarize SPLOST:

  • It can only be used for capital outlay projects or the retirement of existing general obligation debt;
  • Projects must be identified and must conform to all conditions of a SPLOST.
  • It is a county SPLOST but may include city projects, subject to a written agreement by all parties;
  • It can only be levied for five years typically and six under certain conditions;
  • Once all terms and conditions are spelled out, the registered voters must approve it and include all capital projects on the ballot;
  • Each SPLOST has a finite lifespan and must either be replaced with a new SPLOST voted on by taxpayers prior to the end of its term or it terminates.
  • Local governments can sell general obligation bonds to cover immediate capital outlay project costs and use SPLOST proceeds to pay back the bonds or it can utilize the “pay-as-you-go” system or a combination of both. Bonding money allows projects to begin almost immediately after a SPLOST term begins but bears interest charges that are paid back over the course of the bond term; unbonded money is received and deposited until such time as the necessary amounts are available to begin an approved project.
  • SPLOST funding pays for capital outlay projects using sales tax monies that otherwise would have to be paid for out of general funds or not funded at all.

Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST)

The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (TIA) was passed by the State of Georgia. It is known unofficially as TSPLOST. This act provides a legal mechanism in which regions throughout Georgia have the ability to impose a 1% sales tax to fund transportation improvements within their region. In 2012, the Transportation Referendum passed in the regions of Central Savannah (Region 7), River Valley (Region 8), and Heart of Georgia (Region 9).  Marion County is a part of the River Valley (Region 8) and started collections of the tax on January 1, 2013. The Regional Referendum was passed for a period of 10 years and will continue to collect through December 31, 2022.

  • Seventy‐five (75) percent of the funds raised in the region are utilized by GDOT for the execution of the projects included on the approved investment list for the region. The investment list is made by a regional round-table of elected officials. Thirty (30) percent of these funds raised in the region must be expended on projects included in the state-wide strategic transportation plan.
  • Twenty‐five (25) percent of the funds raised in the region are distributed by the Georgia Department of Revenue to each city and county in the region for local projects, including operations, maintenance, planning, and construction.
  • Unlike SPLOST, T-SPLOST funds can be used for operations and maintenance, as well as capital projects. However, funds can only be used for maintenance, operations, and projects related to transportation.
  • The formula for these funds is a combination of each local government’s 2010 population (in relation to the region) and the number of miles of paved / unpaved roads in the jurisdiction (in relation to the region).
  • Marion County has used T-SPLOST funds for road paving, road resurfacing, airport projects, and operations of the county road department.

Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST)

This is a sales tax that is structured and collected similarly to SPLOST but is imposed by the Local Board of Education with voter approval. The Board of Education has sole discretion for the calling of a referendum for an E-SPLOST vote and can only be used for the following capital outlay projects:

  • Capital outlay projects for educational purposes, such as facilities and equipment, and;
  • The retirement of existing school system general obligation debt incurred for capital outlay projects, with the requirement that ad valorem property taxes must be reduced by an amount equal to the proceeds applied to debt retirement.